Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Curse of Egotism

My Garmin bleeped at me signalling the first mile completed.  Glancing down I quickly absorbed the information, a 6:18 mile, heart rate 149, mostly uphill, all in order for a steady effort.  Rounding the corner the trail steepened and I should've backed off to compensate but instead without much conscious input my chest leaned forward slightly, knees rose and weight transferred to my toes as I upped the tempo and increased the pace.  Maintaining a casual, effortless facial expression I breezed past the lady sat on the boulder with a cheery 'hiya', the lack of heavy breathing despite the almost sprint speed highlighting my physical prowess.

The trail levelled and my watch insistently warned me of a deviation from the specified heart rate zone, the delayed reaction of technology catching up with the noticeable beating from my chest.  I admonished myself angrily, what was I doing?  Why the hell had I pushed hard like that?  This was meant to be a recovery run, entirely fuelled by my aerobic system, minimal effort and an opportunity for my muscles to actively recover from the previous day's intervals hell.

Recovering my composure and dropping the effort allowed time to analyse my bizarre reaction to being observed.  It certainly wasn't a primal, alpha male mating call.  I wasn't showing off my running capabilities as a weak effort at being attractive.  In many ways I wish it had been, at least that could be excused as a natural process, driven by the evolutionary requirement to attract the opposite sex, to secure a mate and guarantee the survival of the species.  Sadly it was something much cheaper, dirtier and indicative of an inherent lack of maturity, I'd accelerated past the walker because of ego.

These days I'd like to think I'm not massively egotistical.  I certainly used to be, breezing through my mid-twenties on a wave of financial and sporting success whilst located in the South of England where brash overconfidence is lauded, made it an inevitability.  Since then, a decade in Ireland has mellowed me.  The Irish have a mistrust of success to some degree and whilst they're still quick to congratulate, they're even quicker to ensure that nobody is allowed to take themselves too seriously, cutting egos down to size before they begin to grow and mutate.  I've embraced this mindset wholeheartedly, preferring to seek self-satisfaction over external admiration to the extent that I'm a bit embarrassed by praise, but on occasions that egotistical side can still fight through and become the dominant force again.

Winning breeds confidence, confidence breeds ego, ego breeds expectation and expectation breeds the fear!
Ego is a curse.  In running terms it has cost me the purity of racing for racing's sake.  I occasionally jealously watch competitors coming over the line together, way down the field but with smiles as wide as their faces, eschewing the sprint in order to share the final moments with their friends.  I'll have always finished way before, gnashing my teeth in a fast finish, often simply against the clock to put more time into my rivals and sew more doubt in their minds next time we line up together.  Don't get me wrong, I love to race, to compete and push myself, to move rapidly through technical terrain.  I delight in the camaraderie, sharing that indescribable pain of extreme effort and its unique bonding qualities that make lifelong friends out of new acquaintances, but I also love to win.  Winning fuels the ego and with ego comes expectation.

I'll rarely start a race unless I feel in peak condition because my ego won't allow me to lose.  I'll dig deeper, hurt more and grind out results rather than admit defeat.  And so I usually expect to win, but expectation can only bring disappointment as victories are anticipated and defeats are doubly gutting.  As a result I've probably missed out on some wonderful experiences and also probably further success because I was unwilling to take part for fear of losing.  This is ego and ego breeds the fear.

Often the races that I enjoy the most are the ones with no expectations, ones where I flog myself to death with no possibility of winning.  This season has seen me virtually undefeated but my favourite race was the Worlds where my body fell apart and I fought beyond the pain to just dip into the top forty.  For once I was the runner crossing the line way down the field, the relief of finishing far overriding any egotistical need to excel.  Perhaps I should only do International standard races?!

Shattered and satisfied despite defeat, the Worlds is no place for ego
Back to yesterday.  The unwanted sprint on unprepared muscles tore deep into my calves.  A pinpoint burning was a precursor to a wider tightening that developed throughout the rest of the session.  By the evening I was limping slightly and by morning today's scheduled tempo session was shelved.  Now I'm staring at a potential injury, disruption to my preparations and worst of all a possible inability to get into the mountains.

I'm hugely annoyed at myself for the frivolity of my actions.  Why would I care if someone saw me running slowly?  Why didn't I have the maturity to just maintain the correct outputs, keep the legs turning over and the heart in the right zone?  Why, at 38 do I still feel the need to prove myself to total strangers who don't give a damn whether I can run fast up a hill?  The power of egotism is strong and to maximise recovery, appreciate the truly important facets of life, avoid injury and guarantee my long term participation in the sport I love I need to keep taming its urges.

I'll think back to this blog next time I round that corner, and then probably still kick on regardless!

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